It’s official at last – McLaren has confirmed that Jenson Button will be leaving the team with which he won the 2010 drivers championship to drive alongside fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton next year.
And the Woking outfit describes its new driver line-up, which now consists of the two most recent world champions, as “sensational” – the very thing with which to tackle Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.
It should also be a dream team for British fans – but everything depends on how well Button will adapt to the psychological demands of being the new boy in a very firmly established set-up.
And there are also questions about the direction of development of the MP4-25, which Hamilton has stated that he wishes to be heavily involved in after the previous model was found to be so badly lacking at the start of the 2009 season.
Hamilton’s adventurous driving style, which thrives on understeer and an unruly car, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Button’s smooth, orderly approach to the racetrack. The latter’s anguish when faced with a setup that didn’t suit him was audible on the Brawn GP team radio on several occasions this season.
Before his arrival at Honda and subsequently Brawn GP, Button’s career was blighted by contract problems and unwise decisions about which team to drive for. With his success at Brawn, it appeared that he had finally he had finally found a winning formula.
The decision to move to McLaren is therefore a surprising one, and perhaps rings alarm bells for his long-time fans. But, there again, his career was written off by some following the exit of Honda. And look how accurate that prediction was.
Of course, Button will have the upper hand in one crucial respect. As drivers’ champion, he gets to have the number 1 on his car. Hamilton, as his team-mate, gets 2. And the Silver Arrows drivers will have to start at 3.
However these concerns are presently down the road. For the moment, everyone is celebrating.
Button: challenging himself
Button said in the team’s press release: “It’s always a difficult decision to leave a team when you’ve been there for so long. But life is all about challenges – and, most important of all, it’s about challenging yourself.
“So, although I won the World Championship with Brawn GP last year, and I’ll never forget that, I was always adamant that I wanted to continue to set myself fresh challenges. That’s why I’ve decided to join Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
“You can’t help but be affected by this team’s phenomenal history. McLaren is one of the greats of world sport, and its achievements and list of past champions read like a Who’s Who of Formula 1… I’ve followed the McLaren team ever since I was a small boy, and it feels unbelievable to finally be a part of it.”
He said that his visit to the McLaren Technology Centre had helped him make the decision after being struck by the strength of the team’s ambition and motivation.
“And then there’s the team’s epic history: put it this way, the trophy cabinets seem to stretch for miles. From a personal point of view, it’s also a great pleasure to be joining a fellow British World Champion.
“Lewis has achieved an incredible level of success in a very short period of time, and he’s a wonderfully gifted driver who has earned the respect of every Formula 1 driver. I’m sure there’s plenty that we can learn from each other, and I’m really looking forward to using our combined knowledge to push the team forward.
“Also, I think it’s fantastic that we’ll be forming an all-British line-up. I know that we both fly the flag with pride, and I sincerely hope we can make the whole of the United Kingdom, as well as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes fans across the world, proud. Nothing means more to me than to be able to represent my country, and I’m looking forward to both of us painting Formula 1’s circuits red, white and blue for many years to come.”
Good stuff, Jense. Let’s just hope Silverstone is on the list.
“While I’m fully aware that there’s a tremendous amount of hard work ahead, I’m absolutely certain that Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be able to deliver where it matters: on track.
“I’m already looking forward to starting work with the engineers at the McLaren Technology Centre as we begin our preparations for the 2010 season – and the defence of my world championship. “This is a team that always goes racing to win, and I’m looking forward to being part of that.”
He ended his statement with thanks to everyone at Brawn GP and Mercedes High-Performance engines for working so hard to achieve the double world championship win, saying the 2009 season would always have a special place in his heart.
“So I wish all my old Brawn GP mates well in their new Mercedes Grand Prix adventure, just as I hope they’ll wish me well in my new Vodafone McLaren Mercedes adventure.”
Hamilton: Bring it on
Lewis Hamilton has welcomed his new team-mate by greeting his signing as “fantastic news” and saying he was looking forward to racing him in a car that is competitive enough to win the championship.
But he also paid fulsome tribute to the departing Heikki Kovalainen: “I want to send my best wishes for the future to my 2008-09 team-mate and now good friend, who is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met.”
He continued: “I already know Jenson, and we get on very well together. We both really want our team to succeed. Although we’ll be pushing each other hard, I’m sure we’ll very quickly establish a great working relationship.
“He’s an exceptional driver: very controlled and very smooth, and he has a real depth of knowledge and experience. I think we’ll complement each other very well, and our collaboration will make the team stronger as a result.
“Also, I’m delighted to be racing alongside a fellow British World Champion, and I believe we can pull together to make Vodafone McLaren Mercedes the best team on the grid.”
He characterised McLaren as like one big happy family and said that Button could look forward to a warm welcome from day one.
“Obviously, as a British driver, I’m also thrilled that we’ll be flying the flag for the United Kingdom, and I think today’s announcement is fantastic news for all British sports fans. I hope they’ll be giving us their full support when the season kicks off next March. I’m already looking forward to Silverstone – it’ll be massive!”
Hang on. Does he know something that the rest of us don’t? Or is he just a natural optimist?
“Looking ahead, I think the results from the second half of 2009 speak for themselves, and I’m convinced we can carry that momentum through the winter and into the new season.
“I’ve been closely following the development of our 2010 challenger, the MP4-25, and I think it’s going to be a state-of-the-art car that will enable both of us to consistently fight for victories.”
Whitmarsh: Simply the best
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal, said that signing Button was simply the continuation of McLaren’s policy of recruiting the best drivers available.
“In Jenson and Lewis, we feel we not only have the fastest pairing on the 2010 grid, but also the two most complete, professional and dedicated drivers in Formula 1.
“Moreover, I’m confident that we’ll be able to successfully balance and harness Jenson’s and Lewis’s complementary skill-sets. Our engineers are already looking forward to working with Jenson, and I’m convinced that such a strong and dynamic driver line-up will make us an even more complete and competitive operation. Now we have to provide Jenson and Lewis with race-winning machinery.”
He dismissed the notion that Button had signed up on the promise of a big salary: “I want to make clear that Jenson’s decision to join us was in no way motivated by money. We’ll be paying him no more than he could be getting elsewhere, and that fact is a reflection of not only Jenson’s belief in Vodafone McLaren Mercedes but also his desire and ambition to build on the phenomenal results he achieved during the 2009 season.
“I also want to thank Heikki for his selfless contribution over the past two years. As well as being very quick, Heikki was and remains a great character whom we’ll all miss considerably. It goes without saying that we wish him all the best for next season, and would be very pleased if he were to secure a good drive for 2010.
“We’re ambitious, we’re motivated and we’re hungrier than ever. We make no secret of our ambition for next year: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes wants to win both World Championships – and, with Jenson and Lewis, we believe we’re better equipped than any other team in the pitlane to do exactly that.”